CHELSEA 1 vs SPARTA PRAGUE 1
(2-1 on aggregate )
PRESSURE intensified on Chelsea manager Rafael Benitez last night after his side limped through to the Europa League last 16, but the Spanish boss insisted the Blues deserved to progress.
Chelsea held a 1-0 advantage from the first-leg in the Czech capital, but the Stamford Bridge crowd were stunned when Prague took the lead through David Lafata before half-time.
With the match seemingly headed for extra time, and the locals becoming increasingly restless, midfielder Eden Hazard came off the bench to score with virtually the final kick of the game to spare Chelsea and Benitez’s blushes.
“We had so many chances but, in the end, we deserved to score,” said Benitez, who rested key players Frank Lampard and Branislav Ivanovic, while Ashley Cole and Hazard started from the bench.
“We rested some players and still had 22 shots. I was pleased with the performance of the team.”
Chelsea, who will play Romanian club Steaua Bucharest in the last 16, started well, but fell behind on 17 minutes when Vaclav Kadlec set up Lafata to fire in from close range.
The home side went close soon after the break when Brazilian midfielder Ramires turned Oscar’s cross onto the near post.
But it was the introduction of Hazard for Oscar on 67 minutes, a switch Blues fans initially vented their anger against, which turned the game.
The 22-year-old Belgian blasted in from a difficult angle to spare the supporters extra time and Benitez more barracking.